Youshoku and Western Cuisine
There is a distinct nuance between the term “Youshoku (Western cuisine)” in the Japanese Language. There are two types of the term “Youshoku” one, which refers to traditional outtakes of western cuisine with a Japanese twist to it, as opposed to Western cuisine that reproduces the original relatively faithfully. Although it is Western-style, it is a unique Japanese cuisine developed according to the taste and eating habits of the Japanese.The former is often eaten with a fork and knife with bread as a high-class dish, while the latter is often eaten with chopsticks with rice as a menu item in a common cafeteria or common household dish setting.
The beginning of Western food in Japan
The history of Western food began in the beginning of the Meiji period (1868). The term Youshoku and other western derived words started to be used commonly on a daily basis in Japan. Even Japanese-style rooms and Western-style rooms were becoming more standard in Japan due to the ‘civilization and enlightenment’ promoted by the new Meiji government.
Before the Meiji Restoration, killing cattle for cooking was considered taboo because Buddishm was the main religion in Japan. It seems that there was also the intention of the Edo bakufu to suppress the luxury of the common people.However, the new Meiji government encouraged people to eat meat, especially beef, as a symbol of civilization and enlightenment.
Under such circumstances, the livestock industry grew as Japanese cattle that were originally raised for farming, such as “Kobe beef” and “Yonezawa Beef”, became the top brands of Wagyu which was meant for eating.
Customers of Western restaurants such as Ueno Seiyoken were limited to the privileged class at that time.On the other hand, in Asakusa, the capital of Tokyo, the common people who like new things heard rumors about Western cuisine, and wanted to try high-quality dishes.Eventually, their wish came true, and Western restaurants opened one after another in Asakusa where you can easily enjoy Western cuisine with sake, rice, and miso soup.
Common Western Food Dishes
Tonkatsu (pork cutlet) made with tender and juicy meat
Tonkatsu is one of the most representative Western foods in the Asakusa and Ueno neighborhoods.There are many well-established tonkatsu specialty shops such as Yutaka and Izumi.Most of the restaurants serve rice and miso soup, so it has become so popular that it is no longer recognized as Western food by many Japanese people.
Tonkatsu is a dish based on the European “cutlet”. In Europe, thin meat with batter was fried and grilled in a frying pan, while Japanese chefs in the Meiji period deep-fried thick meat with batter in a deep-fried pan with oil like tempura.This makes the meat soft and juicy.It is served with shredded cabbage and topped with a viscous “tonkatsu sauce” developed in Japan with a hint of English Worcester sauce.
Tonkatsu is especially popular in eastern Japan.The Japanese archipelago has a large cultural area divided into east and west, but in the Edo period, pork was popularized in eastern Japan, where horses were used mainly for farming, and beef was popularized in Western Japan, where cattle were used.Especially in the Kinki region, beef cutlets have been loved for many years as a local Western food instead of tonkatsu.It is also called ‘beef cutlet’ or ‘bifukatsu’, but the former is a slightly higher-class dish, and the latter is a common dish, and the treatment is slightly different.
In addition, “Katsu-don”, a traditional Japanese donburi rice dish with tonkatsu (pork cutlet) closed with onions and dashi-filled eggs is another popular katsu dish.
Curry Rice is another example of a very popular Western inspired Japanese food.
Curry-rice became established as a home-cooked dish in the Showa era, when roux, which can easily make curry, was marketed.There are also many dishes that are derived from curry such as curry udon and curry pilaf, which are now all eaten in japanese culture.
If you want to know more about the origin and history of Japanese curry check out the “History of Curry” vlog episode or click in the link: https://group.bishamon-ten.com/the-history-of-japanese-curry/
If you are ever curious or want to try some of these great western Japanese dishes and many more, please visit Midoh Japanese Kitchen located in Rowland Heights or Sawtelle area.